Wednesday, January 6, 2016

A Christian Response to the LDS View on Grace

Recently, myself and two friends had the honor of speaking about grace with a pair of Latter-day Saint (LDS) sister missionaries. What quickly became obvious was that we held to two radically different understandings of grace. Our conversation was focused on this question: How can sinners who are guilty of breaking God's Law have a right relationship with a just and holy God?

As our exchange came to a close, we each made book recommendations for the other. My friend, Steven, recommended All of Grace by Charles Spurgeon, and Sister Brady recommended Amazed by Grace by Sheri Dew. I have since finished Dew's book and hope to provide a Christian response to the LDS understanding of grace that she presents.

But first, I believe a few comments are needed to express my motivation for writing this response. You see, I am a Christian who believes that the Latter-day Saints have been misled to believe a false gospel, and in false gods. I say this hard statement, not because I hate the Mormon people; on the contrary, I have deep love for them. I am commanded by the Lord Jesus to "love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:39), and it is out of love for Latter-day Saints (LDS) that I must warn my misled neighbors. I am convinced that only the true Gospel of Jesus Christ has the power to save sinners and to provide lasting peace with God. Consider this text from Paul's letter to the Galatians:

I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed! (Galatians 1:6-9)

What was the amazing error of the church at Galatia? Simply, that they were "deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another..." One thing is clear from Paul's statement: abandoning the true gospel for a "different gospel" leaves one under the curse of God. I firmly believe that the gospel taught by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a "different gospel," and therefore cannot deliver you from your sins. I have real concern for the souls of my LDS friends, and this is why I've taken the time to read this book and put together a brief response.

As I worked my way through Amazed by Grace I recognized that we share much of the same vocabulary, but we mean profoundly different things by the same words. There is a language barrier between us. Terms such as "grace," "gospel," "atonement," "salvation," "redemption," "eternal life," "exaltation," and most importantly, "God," ... all these terms mean something entirely different to LDS than how I understand them.

Here are a few excerpts from Dew:

Grace is the power that flows from the atonement. (Dew, 11)
Grace is an enabling power. (Dew, 11)
When we talk about the grace of Jesus Christ, we are talking about His power - power that enables us to do things we simply could not do on our own. (Dew, 13)
Thus, grace is divine power that enables us to handle things we can't figure out, can't do, can't overcome, or can't manage on our own. We have access to this power because Jesus Christ, who was already a God, condescended to endure the bitterness of a fallen world and experience all physical and spiritual pain. (Dew, 15) 
Because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and His grace, you don't have to confront fear, grief, insecurity, or an addiction alone. Because of Him, every one of us has the hope of a glorious future. Because of Him, we can have clean slates, second chances, new beginnings. Because of Him, everything is possible. Because of Him, we will never die. (Dew, 22)
If we keep trying to suppress envy or anger that rises up at the worst moments, if we feel as though nothing ever changes in our lives and we can't seem to get over unfairness or hurt, if we feel unworthy of the Lord's help, we don't understand grace. If the temple endowment remains a mystery and the power there has escaped us, if we don't know how to open the heavens and receive revelation, we don't understand grace. (Dew, 24-25)
Elder Bruce R. McConkie said that "if it were not for the grace of God, there would be nothing - no creation, no fall, no mortal probation, no atonement, no redemption, no immortality, no eternal life. It is God's grace that underlies all things [and]...that makes all things possible. Without it there would be nothing; with it there is everything." (Dew, 31)
Jesus Christ endured and completed His eternal, infinite Atonement so that you and I could change. (Dew, 44)

She describes grace as a power that "flows from the atonement" and is an "enabling power" to "do things we simply could not do on our own ... so that you and I could change." Here is my question: What does this grace enable us to do? What might we change into? Bruce R. McConkie answered part of this question in the aforementioned quote, but these statements still need some unpacking. I turn now to McConkie's well known Mormon Doctrine to provide a more full understanding of the LDS perspective on grace:

Grace is granted to men proportionately as they conform to the standards of personal righteousness that are part of the gospel plan. Thus the saints are commanded to "grow in grace" (D & C 50:40), until they are sanctified and justified, "through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." (D & C 20:30-32). Grace is an attribute of perfection possessed by Deity (D & C 66:12; 84:102), and Christ himself "received grace for grace" until finally he gained the fullness of the Father. The same path to perfection is offered to man. "If you keep my commandments," the Lord says, "you shall receive of his fullness, and be glorified in me as I am in the Father; therefore, I say unto you, you shall receive grace for grace." (D & C 93:6-20). (McConkie, 339).

And one more helpful addition from McConkie:

Immortality comes as a free gift, by the grace of God alone, without works of righteousness. Eternal life is the reward for "obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel." (McConkie, 62).

According to LDS teaching - from McConkie and other Mormon leaders - Christ's atonement "saves" everyone, which basically means that everyone will be resurrected and possess immortality. So in one sense, faithful Mormons can say they are "saved" by grace, because it is the result of the work of Christ that they will be resurrected. However, Latter-day Saints also believe that what Christ accomplished opens the possibility to merit eternal life, which is exaltation. It is important to note that exaltation includes the possibility of attaining to the status of godhood. Lorenzo Snow's famous couplet comes to mind: "As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become."

At this point, we're beginning to see some striking differences from the Biblical perspective on grace, the gospel, and even about God. The purpose of Christ's atonement wasn't simply to ensure a resurrection, even though the Bible is clear that all will be resurrected on the last day - the righteous and the unrighteous. In fact, the unrighteous will have resurrected bodies not connected to the atonement of Jesus Christ. It is true that believers will receive an exaltation, but the Bible does not mean what the Mormon faith means regarding exaltation.

So then, if Christ's death didn't simply guarantee a bodily resurrection (immortality), and didn't also allow for us to merit various degrees of exaltation (eternal life - even to godhood), why did Christ die? The answer to this question is found in what is lacking in Dew's book.  What is lacking is a recognition of the bad news about our sin - that we are guilty sinners who have broken God's Law. And as a result of this guilt we deserve to be judged by God on the Last Day, to be declared guilty of our sins, and sent to Hell forever to justly pay for our sins.

Think with me for a few moments. If God is holy and just, then He must punish sinners for their sin. How do we fit into this picture? Scripture tells us that we are conceived in sin (Psalm 51:5) and bear the guilt of Adam's sin (Romans 5:12). We break the Law of God every day, and thus store up additional wrath for the coming judgment (Romans 2:5-6). Unlike today's society, who believes that man is basically good, here is how the Bible describes mankind:

as it is written,
"There is none righteous, not even one;
There is none who understands,
There is none who seeks for God;
All have turned aside, together they have become useless;
There is none who does good,
There is not even one."
"Their throat is an open grave,
With their tongues they keep deceiving,"
"The poison of asps is under their lips";
"Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness";
"Their feet are swift to shed blood,
Destruction and misery are in their paths,
And the path of peace they have not known."
"There is no fear of God before their eyes." (Romans 3:10-18)

Paul writes elsewhere that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23), and that what we merit for ourselves is death (Romans 6:23). Even the good works that we do are described as filthy rags in God's sight (Isaiah 64:6), for surely we don't do them with proper motives to please God. In fact, we are told that "without faith it is impossible to please Him" (Hebrews 11:6).

While this may sound rather harsh and negative, I believe that if you pause and reflect on your life, you will know that the above verses describe you to a tee. And you know what? It describes me too.

I've noticed a natural tendency for people to try to minimize the offensiveness of their sin, and this can be done in creative ways. One of the most common attempts at this is to compare yourself against others. The idea is: if you compare yourself with another person who sins worse than you, perhaps you won't look as bad. This is the "at least I'm not Hitler" idea. The problem with this is that you won't be judged on the Last Day by comparison with others. Instead, God's judgment of you will be based on His perfect moral Law. The 10 Commandments are an excellent summary expression of God's standards.

As a matter of fact, the Lord has written His moral Law onto your heart, and has also clearly revealed Himself through all of creation. Paul the Apostle wrote this to the church at Rome:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. (Romans 1:18-21)

The result of God's revelation to us is that no one has an excuse before God. The knowledge of His existence and of His requirements - which we have so plainly sinned against - can only condemn us before Him.

The problem is then increased when you contemplate the depth of your depravity in light of God's perfection and Being. What I mean is that when we sin against God we are committing a crime against an infinite Being, who is infinite in holiness and justice. This should worry you because the just punishment of God is a terrible thing. Hell is the place where guilty sinners will be punished by God for all eternity. This just punishment will continue forever because of sins committed against an infinite God who has unending wrath. The Bible describes this as a place where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. "It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Hebrews 10:31).

This is what you deserve. This is what I deserve. All of mankind deserves to be found guilty based on what we have done - the sins we have committed, and the guilt that is ours. We have no excuse before this holy God.

It is worth mentioning again that the entire substance about man's sinful state before God is missing from Amazed by Grace. This is why Dew's understanding of grace falls short, because she fails to recognize that our sin causes us to be deserving of God's wrath.

What hope do guilty sinners have? My prayer is that you are asking this question, because if you are, you are at the right place to understand the grace of God. Jesus Christ, who is the second Person of the Trinity, humbled Himself by entering into His own creation. He took on a second nature - a human nature - to then live a sinless life and die on the cross as a substitute for sinners. He rose again on the third day and ever lives to make intercession for His people. Jesus Christ "bore our sins in His body on the cross" (1 Peter 2:24).

In doing this marvelous work, Christ provided healing (1 Peter 2:24) and a lasting peace with God (Romans 5:1). The Christian's position has changed from being under God's wrath to being under His favor and love (Ephesians 2:3-9). What's more, Christ accomplished all of salvation for His elect, including our justification [our right-standing before God] and glorification [exaltation]. This is how Paul could rightly say: "there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1). A little later in Romans 8, the Apostle declares that the one "in Christ Jesus" can be sure to receive all the benefits of salvation: "For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified" (Romans 8:29-30). Please notice that all of these actions are done by God: God is the one who foreknows; God predestines; God calls; God justifies; and God glorifies. The total package is given to Christians, but there is still the question of how one enters into this special unity with Christ? How can one be justified before God? Hear the Word of God:

1 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." 4 Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. 5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: 7 " Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, And whose sins have been covered. 8 " Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account." (Romans 4:1-8)

Paul is here addressing the question: How can sinners be justified before God, and be united to Christ? He begins with Abraham as his example - was Abraham justified by works? To answer this, he cites Genesis 15:6, demonstrating that Abraham's justification was based on faith in God, and it was on account of his faith that righteousness was credited to his account. In verses 4-5, Paul contrasts two scenarios: (1) one who works, with (2) one who does not work. The one who works is paid based on what he has done, and it is owed to him; it is not a gift. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Christ, his faith is credited as righteousness. The Apostle's second example is David who "speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: 'Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, And whose sins have been covered. "Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.'"

Therefore, our right-standing before the Lord is through faith alone, whereby a great transaction takes place. The Apostle Paul said: "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5:21). Christ became sin for us, and paid the penalty for us as our substitute while on the cross (1 Peter 2:24). And through faith in Jesus, we become the righteousness of God in Christ. Righteousness is credited to us "apart from works" (Romans 4:6). We don't become intrinsically righteous within ourselves and thereby merit eternal life. Instead, through faith we receive an alien righteousness: the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. This is the basis for us having a right relationship with God. Paul says in Romans 5:1, "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." This is the Gospel of grace found in the Bible. This is the good news about the Lord Christ.

I'd like the reader to compare this with the LDS doctrine that says Christ's atonement provided immortality for all, and opened up the possibility for us to work toward our exaltation. This is a very unbiblical idea because it says that at least part of salvation requires our works in addition to God's grace. Two crucial verses from the Book of Mormon express this rather clearly:

For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do. (2 Nephi 25:23)
Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God. (Moroni 10:32)

According to these texts, when does God's grace become sufficient for you? We are told that it is (1) after all that we can do, and (2) if you deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient. My friends, this is the opposite of good news, because it is an impossible gospel which no one can perform. Paul tells us that none of us does good, not even one (Romans 3:12). Even our works are filthy rags in God's sight (Isaiah 64:6). The truth is: none of us can deny ourselves of all ungodliness, much less perfectly keep the greatest commandment.

The marvelous news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that God's grace is sufficient before and apart from our good works:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

No part of salvation requires our cooperation, effort, or good works. The work of redemption was accomplished solely by Christ, and we have nothing to add to His finished work. Even faith and repentance are gifts that are granted from God (Ephesians 2:8; 2 Timothy 2:25). Salvation is from the Lord (Jonah 2:9), so there is no room for boasting because it isn't based on what we have done, but on what Christ has done.

Sinners can be delivered from the wrath of God by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone - to the glory of God the Father.

And yet, even if I have persuaded you that our right-standing before God is all of grace, through faith alone - I believe another roadblock stands in your way. It is what the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches about God and the Eternal Law of Progression. The Mormon faith believes in a false God (and gods), and this means that the object of your faith cannot save you. Joseph Smith, in his 1844 funeral address for Elder King Follett said this:

Here, then, is eternal life-to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done before you, namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you attain to the resurrection of the dead, and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings, and to sit in glory, as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power.

The LDS Church teaches that God became God at some point in time. In fact, they believe He was once a man on another planet who had a God that existed before Him, who had a God before Him, and so on... Indeed, there was a never time without gods. We are told that if we are obedient "to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel" we can attain to godhood status, the same as all gods before us.

However, the God of the Bible has no similarity with the God taught by the Latter-day Saints. What I mean is that the Bible teaches that God has eternally existed as God. He didn't become God at a point in time - and I don't simply mean that God's matter or intelligence has existed eternally. I mean that God has always existed as He is now (Isaiah 44:6, Malachi 3:6). Furthermore, God is not a man, but is Spirit (Num 23:19, 1 Sam 15:29, John 4:24). The Bible teaches there is only one true God in existence. To be even more plain, I don't mean that God is the only true God for us, but that there are other worlds that exist who have their own one true God for them. No, I mean that there is exhaustively one God that exists in all of existence - whether that be another galaxy, universe, dimension, or reality. Truly, the Bible teaches monotheism: that there is only one true and living God.

"You are My witnesses," declares the Lord,
"And My servant whom I have chosen,
So that you may know and believe Me
And understand that I am He.
 Before Me there was no God formed,
And there will be none after Me. (Isaiah 43:10)

This verse is from a remarkable section of Scripture where God challenges the false gods of the nations surrounding Israel. God's argument wasn't that He was the only God for Israel, and that those other gods were real gods for the surrounding nations. On the contrary, God's argument is unmistakable: He is Israel's only God because He is the only true and living God. There were no gods before Him, and there will be none after Him. I recommend taking some time to read through Isaiah chapters 40-50 and see for yourself how God puts the false gods on trial, and demonstrates in no uncertain terms that He is the only God.

I will also clarify what I mean by the Godhead. I've discussed the concept of monotheism: that there is only one God. The Bible also teaches that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. These three persons are coequal, and coeternal with one another. This is summarized by the doctrine of the Trinity:

Within the one Being that is God, there exists eternally three coequal and coeternal persons, namely, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

In saying this, I've found it often helpful to state what I don't mean. I don't mean that the Father is the Son, or that the Son is the Holy Spirit, or that the Holy Spirit is the Father. I believe that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three distinct, divine Persons. And so, while the LDS faith teaches that these three persons are three beings and three gods, the Bible teaches these three distinct persons all share the one Being of God.

It is true that we cannot fully comprehend God, but we can apprehend and believe what He reveals about Himself in Scripture as true. God's triune and eternal existence cannot be fully understood by His finite creatures, yet this shouldn't come as a surprise to us because the Lord is infinite and incomprehensible (Psalm 145:3, 147:5). Nevertheless, it is important to believe in the correct God, because having faith isn't enough ... our object of faith must also be correct. Jesus said: "This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent" (John 17:3). And so, if you have a false Heavenly Father, a false Jesus Christ, and a false Holy Spirit, you can't possess eternal life.

I implore you, dear reader, to repent from the false gods of the LDS faith, and turn unto the one true God found in the holy Scriptures. Repent of the notion that your works play any role in salvation, and trust fully in Jesus Christ. He alone can save you from your sins by receiving the free pardon which is by grace alone, through faith alone. Do not delay, but believe and trust in the Lord who is able to deliver you from your sins. I echo the concluding words of Charles Spurgeon from All of Grace, and say to you: meet me in heaven!

I pray this was a blessing to the reader. Thank you for reading,


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

A Great Awakening in Our Time

“In a time of universal deceit -
telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”
-- George Orwell

Amen to that. Dr. Michael Brown cites this in his new book Outlasting the Gay Revolution: Where Homosexual Activism is Really Going and How to Turn the Tide. He doesn't waste any time in seeking to encourage the reader:

This is our time to stand, not in hate but in love, not in frustration but in determination. Put another way, rather than capitulate, give up, throw in the towel, it’s time for us to be energized and mobilized for action. It’s time for heroes to arise, and those heroes can be ordinary people who make an extraordinary difference in the decisions they make and the values they embrace. You can be one of those heroes. (Preface XVII).

First things first, this is an incredible read and I do recommend it to all of my fellow Christian brothers and sisters who could use some encouragement in light of recent cultural events, most especially the ongoing gay revolution. This is the third book Brown has written on the subject of the LGBT movement, and while all are excellent, this is the most inspiring. It's precisely what I needed to read at this dark time in our nation's history. The SCOTUS effectively legislated newfound rights of same-sex couples to "marry," which has opened Pandora's box to the slippery slope of marriage becoming whatever we want it to mean. Isaiah described societies like ours:

20 Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;  
Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness;  
Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!  
21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes  
And clever in their own sight! (Isaiah 5:20-21, NASB)

The immense shift that has taken place during the last decade has literally caught me by surprise. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine my country would so clearly abandon Biblical principles for marriage, and now even gender distinctives. But that's where we are, and rather than hide in our Christian caves, I agree with Michael Brown that we need to be ready to face our society by our godly example and with the only message of hope for sinners.

I know you feel the pressure from our society to conform to their standards. They do a rather fine job of convincing themselves that they accept everyone and aren't judgmental at all. In fact, it's baffling to them why Christians don't want gay people to have the same rights as heterosexual couples. They honestly wonder why Christians are standing in the way of LGBT people's happiness. All they want is for us to accept them and their lifestyles by giving our stamp of approval. They want us to celebrate their newfound "Constitutional right" to "marry." President Obama, many others in government, most fortune 500 companies, the media, and the majority of Americans now support homosexuality and gay marriage. They wonder why Christians can't get with the program?

Yes, the pressure is all too real.

To make it even more difficult, they have positioned their entire movement as though it were the modern day Civil Rights movement from the 1960's. "Gay is the new black" and "Gay marriage is a civil right" are the mantras we hear repeated today over and over and over again. If you are foolish enough to simply disagree with homosexual behavior, you are labeled a homophobic bigot - the intent of this kind of rhetoric is simply to shut down all rational thought. I mean, who wants to be called a homophobe, or a bigot? I sure don't!

So what if you’re branded a homophobe and a bigot? Jesus was called far worse. … As I write these words, Christians in radical Muslim countries are literally losing their heads for their faith, yet we here in the West are concerned about losing our Facebook popularity. How can we be so cowardly? How can we be so easily moved? How can we capitulate when, deep down in our hearts, many of us know that God’s standards haven’t changed in the least? The words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. have never been more relevant: “Cowardice asks the question, is it safe? Expediency asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? But conscience asks the question, is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular; but one must take it because it is right.” That time is now. (Bold Mine; pgs 6-7).

Oddly enough, and though gay activists wish this weren't the case, their origin does not stem from the Civil Rights movement of the 1960's.

...the gay revolution is not the successor of the civil rights movement of the 1960’s; it is the successor of the sexual revolution of the 1960’s. (pg. 58).

[After citing the results from a 2014 Gallup poll about sexual morality] No matter how you slice the cake, the results are the same: those who are more accepting of sexual immorality are more accepting of homosexuality; those who are less accepting of sexual immorality are less accepting of homosexuality. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this out, and it is hardly a coincidence that the same decade that witnessed the rise of the sexual revolution, culminating in Woodstock in 1969, witnessed the rise of the gay liberation movement, marked by the Stonewall riots of 1969. (pg. 65).

This is recognizably apparent after reading this, but with the regular onslaught from our world, it can be difficult to think about this rightly. We need to stop and think for a moment so that we're not fooled into believing that homosexuality is a good thing. It isn't a good thing; the Bible describes it as a self-destructive and sinful behavior.

As noted by social worker Luis Pabon in his web article “I No Longer Want to Be Gay”:  "The self-loathing in this community forces you to encounter a series of broken men who are self-destructive, hurtful, cruel and vindictive towards one another. I have struggled to adapt my moral code to fit the behaviors concomitant with the lifestyle but it seems that the lifestyle is forcing me too far away from everything I love and value. No matter how many times I try to purge my perception of its firmly held beliefs and skewed biases, the same classic stereotypes of gay men keep rearing their ugly heads. The indiscriminate sex, superficiality, unstable relationships, self-hatred, peter pan syndrome, closeted connections, ageism, shade, loneliness, preoccupation with sex, prejudice, aversion to intimacy all seem to come out of the ground I thought they were buried under. Gay men just seem to find it difficult to transcend the stereotypes and clich├ęs attached to the life and it is becoming disheartening.” (pg. 154).

This article that Dr. Brown cites isn't from some right-wing Christian, but from a gay man. Mr. Pabon reveals that the portrayal of homosexual relationships isn't as glamorous as the pro-gay activists would have us believe. Instead of the truth, the world regularly presents us with a cleaned up version of homosexual relationships that's similar to heterosexual relationships.

My point isn't that gay people are horrible and awful people, while Christians are wonderful. Not at all! Both gays and Christians are guilty sinners before a righteous God. But, just as Christians used to be slaves to sin (and still struggle with sin), homosexuality is described by God as a sinful behavior in His holy Word. I would suggest that if you love LGBT people, you would warn them of the truth that unrepentant sinners will someday face the just judgment of God, and will be found guilty of breaking His Law. This can only result in being sent to Hell for all eternity as a righteous punishment for sin. We can't remain silent out of love for our fellow man, and out of love for the God we serve.

An unfortunate byproduct of the gay revolution is the questioning of gender complementarity, which now has many today questioning gender distinctives. Is gender something you're born with and stuck with for life? Or is it more "fluid" than that? Can your gender evolve over time, depending on how you feel?

In Lincoln, Nebraska, a “‘gender inclusive’ school district” wants to drop terms like “boys and girls” and instead call kids something else, even “purple penguins.” A handout for teachers in the Lincoln Public Schools states, “Don’t use phrases such as ‘boys and girls,’ ‘you guys,’ ‘ladies and gentlemen,’ and similarly gendered expressions to get kids’ attention.” As Todd Starnes reported, “The handout was part of an effort to educate teachers and administrators about transgender issues,” meaning again that all the schools must be completely overhauled because of the struggles of a few. How in the world did this happen? (Bold Mine; pg. 116).

I echo the sentiment of Dr. Brown, because I'm flabbergasted at the insanity of this school district's line of thinking. Questioning the essence of gender does seem to be the logical next step after the acceptance of homosexuality. After all, once gender complementarity isn't viewed as essential - in other words, that there is nothing special about one man and one woman - then who's to say two of the same gender can't be an equivalent romance? Gay activism argues that homosexual couples are the same as heterosexual couples, which denies meaningful gender distinctives. This opens the door to transgenderism as another sexual expression. But the slippery slope only gets worse, because the number of people involved in romantic relationships is another logical question. Then we have consensual adult incest, and even "intergenerational" love. I mean, if romance is simply whatever we want it to be, then who's to say otherwise?

Societies that embrace this kind of sexual chaos don't last long. The simple fact of the matter is that rebelling against our Maker has severe consequences, because humankind was made to operate under specific moral principles. We can't utterly abandon those principles and expect to prosper, which is why our responsibility to this society is all the more important. We have a duty to God, and to our children to be faithful Christians. While homosexuality can never produce life, true marriage can naturally produce life. The legacy and culture of homosexuals dies with them, but if we teach our children the ways of the Lord, our legacy will endure.

Our job is to concentrate on doing what is right, even if same-sex “marriage” becomes the law of the land, even if gender distinctions are all but erased in many sectors of society, even if we can’t rely on the public school systems at all and we have to come up with creative educational alternatives that work for the poor as well as the rich.  
We need to walk in sexual purity whether we’re single or married. We need to be true to our wedding vows and really mean it when we say, “Till death do us part.” We need to celebrate motherhood and fatherhood and the beauty of gender distinctions. We need to make our kids a priority rather than a distraction, recognizing that we have no more precious gift in this world than our children and that, one day, they will be the leaders of the society.  
We need to embrace wholesome values in our personal lives and inculcate those in our families. We need to be positive influences in the secular society, with reputations for integrity, generosity, compassion, and honesty. And we need to celebrate life to the full, beginning with sanctity of life in the womb, thereby swimming against the tide of the culture of death. (Bold Mine; pg. 208).

Dr. Brown encourages Christians to pray for another Great Awakening in our time. I love the belief he has that the Lord can do this today, if He chooses to. I love how he writes convincingly of God's faithfulness, and His desire to show mercy to sinners. I love how he believes we have reason to hope, because our God is steadfast in His promises. I agree with his sentiment as he closes out the book: "To my fellow cultural revolutionaries I say: On with it!" (pg. 217). Oh, how I am with Michael Brown in this. Our God can do all things - if He can create light out of darkness, and can shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, surely He can save a multitude of sinners just like us.

14 if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14, ESV).

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Shouting Universe

For as long as I can remember in school, I was told the same thing about how all life on earth began and evolved: "Yes, there are challenges. Yes, there are improbabilities - if not impossibilities - needed to be overcome. But, trust the scientists who agree that given enough time, anything can happen." That's what I heard in high school biology and in college. That's what we're told in the media, and from about everyone else in our society.

The modern theory of Darwinian Evolution is now accepted on a mass scale, and if you're one of the few who believe something to the contrary, you are looked at as though you believed the earth were flat. I'm not kidding - this comparison was made by my college professors. "Evolution is not JUST a theory," they say. I discovered then that all major proponents of Darwinian Evolution are aware of the holes in their philosophy, and are secretly hoping no one will notice that their worldview just can't hold water.

I still vividly remember my Biology 101 course where on the first day of class, my professor took the time to explain to us: "This course is entirely about Evolution, and everything we will discuss will go back to Evolution. Evolution is true, and it is a theory just like our current understanding of gravity is a theory - which means it's a fact." These words were pretty intimidating to me as an 18 year old freshman, but I did something way back then that still makes me chuckle ... after that first lecture I approached my professor's desk, introduced myself, then told her that I didn't believe in Evolution. I provided some of my reasoning, and indicated that it would be up to her to convince me by the end of the course. She took up the challenge by stating that it would be no problem for her because Evolution is provable on many levels.

Spoiler alert: by God's grace I passed. But as I progressed through the material, I began to realize some important shortcomings in the modern theory of evolution. The first is that the explanations for the origin of life were (and still are) pretty laughable. I'm sorry, but the theories about non-life spawning life near a volcano, in a soup-like substance, maybe / maybe-not being struck by lightning, embarrasses me. And these theories embarrass scientists too. What's worse is that we can't seem to replicate the process in the laboratory under perfect conditions and odds that we control! Secondly, we look at the similarities between lifeforms and determine that because Evolution can happen on a micro level, and does produce new species, we take the leap that greater useful complexity arises through natural selection! They don't stop with new species evolving, they must insist that new organs, new functions, and new kinds of lifeforms are developed through this process. Textbooks have cute little cartoons to demonstrate new developments, but don't explain *how* this happens.

As I handed in my final exam I leaned in and whispered to my professor: "I wasn't convinced..." She looked at me, smiled, and nodded.

Not too long ago, I finished reading one of the classic books against Evolution: Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution by Michael Behe. He and I don't see eye to eye on many things, but I would highly recommend this book to help refine your understanding of why Evolution is a flawed theory. He approaches the subject differently than many non-evolutionists do, for example, he doesn't argue from the fossil record. Instead, he argues that the fatal flaw in Darwinian Evolution is that they can't explain their theory on a molecular level.

"Anatomy is, quite simply, irrelevant to the question of whether evolution could take place on the molecular level. So is the fossil record. It no longer matters whether there are huge gaps in the fossil record or whether the record is as continuous as that of U.S. presidents. And if there are gaps, it does not matter whether they can be explained plausibly. The fossil record has nothing to tell us about whether the interactions of 11-cis-retinal with rhodopsin, transducin, phosphodiesterase could have developed step-by-step." (pg. 22).

Behe says later:

"It is now approximately half a century since the neo-Darwinian synthesis was formulated. A great deal of research has been carried on within the paradigm it defines. Yet the successes of the theory are limited to the minutiae of evolution, such as the adaptive change in coloration of moths; while it has remarkably little to say on the questions which interest us most, such as how there came to be moths in the first place." (Bold Mine; pg. 28).

The real genius of his argument is the idea that complex systems (whether they be organs, or even functions within a cell), reach a point of irreducible complexity. Behe defines it this way:

"By irreducibly complex I mean a single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning. An irreducibly complex system cannot be produced directly (that is, by continuously improving the initial function, which continues to work by the same mechanism) by slight, successive modifications of a precursor system, because any precursor to an irreducibly complex system that is missing a part is by definition nonfunctional." (pg. 39).

Darwin's Black Box covers 3 powerful examples of irreducibly complex systems that I found very compelling: the eye, blood clotting, and the immune system. Each of these examples are so powerful and persuasive because of everything involved in these systems. I know enough to know that the eye is a remarkable system, so remarkable in fact that there are countless components that comprise its sheer brilliance. Darwinian Evolution would have us believe that the eye developed in slow, gradual changes over time. But the question is rightly asked: what use is a partial eye to natural selection without key components to make it functional? For instance, an eye without a retina is useless, hence the idea that the eye must have arrived in its completed form by a designer.

"The result of these cumulative efforts to investigate the cell-to investigate life at the molecular level-is a loud, clear, piercing cry of "design!" The result is so unambiguous and so significant that it must be ranked as one of the greatest achievements in the history of science. The discovery rivals those of Newton and Einstein, Lavoisier and Schrodinger, Pasteur, and Darwin. The observation of the intelligent design of life is as momentous as the observation that the earth goes around the sun or that disease is caused by bacteria or that radiation is emitted in quanta." (pg. 233).

It is this last idea that I appreciate but must go much further than he does, because Christians don't just believe in some unknown designer who fashioned life's complexity. Rather, we believe in the one and only God of the Bible, the triune God that we worship and love. Now having said that, I believe that there is incredible use in being able to address and discuss Evolution with people in today's society, because almost everyone you meet believes in Darwinian Evolution. People will want some kind of explanation, and this can help to address their concerns so that you can ultimately point them to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Last week I was talking with an atheist friend about the gospel, and the subject of Evolution suddenly made its way into the conversation. He thought, just like most people think, that Evolution is a scientific reason not to believe in Christianity and the Bible. Using some of the reasoning in Behe's book, I was able to demonstrate the unfoundedness of Evolution. I then immediately made the connection to the reality of God's existence: that the Bible says God has clearly revealed Himself in creation, and in the moral Law written on everyone's heart. My friend didn't like hearing any of this (no sinners do), but Behe is right that molecular biology is shouting at us: "design!"

We know, as Christians, that the entirety of the expanding universe is proclaiming the clear existence of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. This is why our appeal to fellow sinners has merit, and why we ought to have great courage when speaking about the truth to others. I'm encouraged by the account of Paul's interaction with Agrippa where he tries to persuade the King to repent and believe in Christ:

"24 While Paul was saying this in his defense, Festus *said in a loud voice, "Paul, you are out of your mind! Your great learning is driving you mad." 25 But Paul *said, "I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I utter words of sober truth. 26 For the king knows about these matters, and I speak to him also with confidence, since I am persuaded that none of these things escape his notice; for this has not been done in a corner. 27 King Agrippa, do you believe the Prophets? I know that you do." 28 Agrippa replied to Paul, " In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian." 29 And Paul said, " I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains."" (Acts 26:24-29, NASB).

One thing is clear: God has revealed Himself to all men everywhere, and requires our repentance. By our love of the Lord and His gospel, and by the love we have for our fellow man, we should be looking for opportunities to make known the great God whom we serve with our whole heart.

"10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. 11 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men," (2 Corinthians 5:10-11a, NASB).

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Suffering of LGBT People

“To all those who have suffered in silence for so long”

This is to whom Matthew Vines' new book is dedicated, and certainly caused me take a moment to consider the suffering of LGBT people.

I think Vines is on to something here. In fact, I agree with him that Lesbian / Gay / Bi-Sexual / Transgender people are suffering. Some suffering is caused by wicked people. For example, a man stabbed 6 people at a gay pride parade in Jerusalem a few weeks ago. That kind of violence is evil, and must be condemned by Christians. But most of the suffering LGBT people experience is brought on as a direct result of their sin. Sin produces suffering. It can only bring about misery and death: “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

In my Bible reading, I ran across this passage from Psalm 38:3-8 about our sin:
There is no soundness in my flesh because of Your indignation;
There is no health in my bones because of my sin.
For my iniquities are gone over my head;
As a heavy burden they weigh too much for me.
My wounds grow foul and fester
Because of my folly.
I am bent over and greatly bowed down;
I go mourning all day long.
For my loins are filled with burning,
And there is no soundness in my flesh.
I am benumbed and badly crushed;
I groan because of the agitation of my heart.

When we blatantly disobey God’s commands for our lives, this is the result. We lose sleep over our guilt. Sometimes we become sick because of how remorseful we feel. We mourn and groan, and become worse the more time goes on while we pretend everything’s A-Okay. I say all of this, not because I am better than homosexuals - because I’m not better than them. I’m just as sinful as they are. We both descended from Adam, the first man, and we both inherited our guilt from him. But I’m not surprised at all that LGBT people are miserable, because pretending that sin is a good thing will make you miserable! The only way to feel better is to make things right with your Maker.

My response to gay people is one of compassion. I can relate because I understand what it is to be tempted, and to sin. But it is because I love homosexuals that I will warn them of the truth: that God has prescribed for us a certain way to live, and that He is a holy God who is angry with sinners because of our sinful ways. I agree with John MacArthur who recently preached a sermon where he said that we need to warn unbelievers of the wrath to come. There is a final day of judgment coming where those who willfully remain in their sins will pay for their sins in Hell for all eternity.

If you love gay people, you will have compassion on them and warn them of God’s wrath to come. Their only hope is in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I’ll be completely honest with you: I’ve read some of the best books on both sides of this issue, and I was secretly hoping I could get by with listening to the audiobook version of Matthew Vines’ God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships. I was breezing through the book, when I realized about halfway through that it deserved even more attention from me. It isn’t that this book is revolutionary, or has a ton of new arguments - there’s really nothing new in his book. To be fair, Vines doesn’t claim to offer anything new. What he does try to do is make his arguments more accessible to a wider audience, and to help train people to infiltrate conservative churches to begin changing them from the inside. It’s because of his goals with this book, and the movement he’s helping along, that I decided to actually read the book.

Matthew Vines didn’t surprise me at all that he believes homosexuals can be true Christians. What threw me for a loop was that he claims to believe in a “high view” of Scripture:

"Like most theologically conservative Christians, I hold what is often called a "high view" of the Bible. That means I Believe all of Scripture is inspired by God and authoritative for my life. While some parts of the Bible address cultural norms that do not directly apply to modern societies, all of Scripture is "useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." (2, Vines).

Now having finished the book, I believe that Vines’ constant revisionism of Scripture, proves his above statement to be very very false.

"Instead of accepting the divide between more progressive Christians who support marriage equality and conservative Christians who oppose it, this book envisions a future in which all Christians come to embrace and affirm their LGBT brothers and sisters - without undermining their commitment to the authority of the Bible." (3, Vines).

If you’re not careful you might miss the fact that from beginning to end, Vines assumes what he never proves: there there is such a thing as “gay Christians.” He says later on:

"Same-sex attraction is completely natural to me. It's not something I chose or something I can change. And while I could act on my sexual orientation in lustful ways, I could also express it in the context of a committed, monogamous relationship. But based on the traditional interpretation of Scripture, I am uniquely excluded from the possibility of romantic love and intimacy." (29, Vines).

I’ll be the first to admit that I was wrong about how I thought of homosexuality for most of my adult life. Until the past few years, I oversimplified all homosexuals with this summary statement: “Homosexuality is a choice.” Now, I don’t completely disagree with this either, but it isn’t sufficient and doesn’t accurately explain every single person who experiences same-sex attraction. What I mean is that I believe there are those who willfully choose homosexual practices simply out of rebellion (consider teenage rebellion against their parents, as one example), and not primarily because they experience same-sex attractions. Others do have a predisposition to same-sex attractions, and have no opposite-sex attractions at all.

Having said this, it is important to point out that just because one experiences same-sex attractions, or has a particular predisposition for same-sex attractions, doesn’t make homosexuality a good and just thing. Not all attractions and/or predispositions are good, and everyone knows this. I know this. You know this. We all have our own particular sinful predispositions that we ought to struggle against. Some people have a short tempter, others steal, and some struggle against same-sex attraction.

How we feel is never a test for what is good and true. Sometimes I feel like hitting other drivers with my car … that is not a good feeling, and I am forbidden by God to act on this. In fact, the Scripture says this about us:

The heart is more deceitful than all else
And is desperately sick;

Who can understand it?
(Jeremiah 17:9)

One final point on the above quote from Vines: “But based on the traditional interpretation of Scripture, I am uniquely excluded from the possibility of romantic love and intimacy.” He is correct that God and the Bible condemn homosexual practice. This does mean that even if God did save Matthew Vines and he continued to only experience same-sex attractions, he would be required by God to remain celibate for life. Scripture never promises us that we will be married, or experience opposite-sex attractions.

However, there is hope for the Christian because our identity isn’t found in our sexual attractions. We are so much more than that. We are made in God’s image, and if you’re a Christian you are a redeemed child of God! Your purpose is to glorify Him, not to satisfy your sexual desires. Jesus said: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Paul wrote to the Christians at Corinth, some who also were named as homosexuals: “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). In other words, God radically transforms His redeemed saints. No longer are Christians known for their sin: it doesn’t (and can’t) define us, because the Lord has set us free from bondage to sin. The Scripture doesn’t promise that all sinful desire is removed from us in this life. Christians may well continue to have same-sex attractions after coming to personally know Jesus Christ. Even so, it would be completely inappropriate for Christians to identify themselves as homosexuals, because that is identifying with sin.

Vines’ primary argument recognizes that the Bible has nothing positive to say about homosexual practice. Instead, he tries to demonstrate that what the biblical writers addressed on this subject has nothing to do with our modern understanding of homosexuality:

"But let me say it again: When we study biblical writings about marriage and celibacy, the question is not whether Jesus, Paul, or anyone else endorsed same-sex marriage or whether they instead enjoined gay people to lifelong celibacy. They didn't directly do either one. As we saw in chapter 2, our understanding of same-sex orientation is uniquely modern, so the question we face is how to apply the basic principles of the Bible's teachings to this new situation." (48, Vines).
“We have to remember: what Paul was describing is fundamentally different from what we are discussing.” (103, Vines).

“Our question isn’t whether the Bible addresses the modern concepts of sexual orientation and same-sex marriage. We know it doesn’t. Instead, our question is: Can we translate basic biblical principles about marriage to this new situation without losing something essential in the process?”  (137, Vines).

What is truly amazing about this, and other similar statements in the book, is that he basically argues that the biblical writers (and ultimately God) didn’t understand our modern understanding of homosexuality and sexual orientation. Such a small god Matthew Vines claims to worship! Our heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. Who can know it? Seemingly, according to Vines, with up-to-date psychology and our current cultural context, we can! The Scriptures have a different answer, however: “I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind” (Jeremiah 17:10). Isn’t the point of Scripture that we don’t know our hearts as well as we think, and instead we are to depend on the God who made us, because He made our heart and mind? 

Vines does spend a good portion of the book attempting to revise traditional interpretations of many of the common condemnations of homosexuality in Scripture. I believe he spent the most time on Romans 1, and for good reason. Paul is incredibly clear: homosexuality is a sin, just like other sins. It is the primary example that the Apostle used to demonstrate what happens to people when God removes His restraining hand. Matthew Vines says over and over again that Paul wasn't aware of loving, committed, monogamous same-sex relationships. He couldn't have had in mind our modern understanding of sexual orientation because pederasty and slave abuse was the most common form of same-sex relationships in Roman culture. 

Well, first off, Robert Gagnon demonstrates this argument to be utterly untrue in his book on the subject. Historically, Vines is simply wrong. There are documented cases of same-sex non-coercive relationships in ancient times. Biblically, Paul wasn't only condemning coercive homosexual practice (though that is certainly included), but the discussion in Romans 1 is regarding those who were mutually choosing to be involved. Paul said that they "burned in their desire toward one another." Clearly this can't be limited to coercive relationships between adults and boys, or slave-owners with slaves. 

“If the essence of marriage involves a covenant-keeping relationship of mutual self-giving, then two men or two women can fulfill that purpose as well as a man and a woman can.” (Page 137).

I wrote this in the margins next to this quote: “The words ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ are haunting your argument throughout the entire book.” The essence of marriage is not defined in the way Vines attempts to redefine it. Jesus - God in human flesh - when asked about marriage in Matthew 19 (and surely knew of our future context), explained that marriage was between one man and one woman. He explained the gift of gender, and that we were created male and female from the beginning. As inconvenient as it is for Vines, and other revisionists like him, Jesus said that a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife. These two shall become one flesh. He cited the Genesis account as authoritative, and argued for its truthfulness, which we must still do today.

Our culture has changed so quickly on this and other issues, that at times I feel like just giving up, as though we had no hope. But then the Holy Spirit uses the Scriptures to convict me of my poor attitude and reminds of the promises of our God: “For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a skillful psalm. God reigns over the nations, God sits on His holy throne.” (Psalm 47:7-8). I believe we have a wonderful opportunity in this dark time, and that is to be bold and faithful witnesses for our King. We have been redeemed from our sins, and if we really believe the truth then we must speak of what we know to be true. The message we preach is foolishness to the world, but we have this promise also: “Many will see and fear and will trust in the Lord” (Psalm 40:3).

I couldn’t resist but adding and concluding with these words from Paul:
Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain. (Philippians 2:14-16).